By Thomas D. Segel, Tomsegel@joimail.com
Harlingen, Texas, February 13, 2004 - Anyone wishing to stir up the anger of veterans and members of the retired military community need only mention the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Dr. David Chu. From that point onward, outrage will take the place of polite conversation.
What causes all this veteran anger? According to Colonel Harry Riley, U S Army (Ret) it is because Mr. Chu, without rational justification, makes broad and sweeping statements identifying military retiree benefits as the enemy of our active force.
Chu has made comments like “Benefits that apply mainly to retirees and their families are making it harder for the Pentagon to afford financial incentives for today's military,” He has continued on that theme saying, “Congress has gone too far in expanding military retiree benefits.” His claim is the benefits are now a heavy burden. “They are starting to crowd out two things: First, our ability to reward the person who is bearing the burden right now in Iraq or Afghanistan. Second, they are undercutting our ability to finance the new gear that is going to make that military person successful five, ten 15 years from now.”
Colonel Riley muses, “I wonder if Mr. Chu ever considered how hard it was at Normandy, in the jungles of the South Pacific, or the freezing battlefields of Korea as he sits in his office and denigrates these old warriors seeking benefits they earned?”
Some readers may not be familiar with the workings of Dr. David S. C. Chu or his role within the Department of Defense (DOD). He is a product of the Ivy League, earning his Doctorate in Economics from Yale in 1972. He was commissioned and served two years in the Army, including a tour of duty with the Office of the Comptroller, Headquarters, and 1st Logistical Command, in Vietnam. From that point on he has been in and out of government, accruing more than 18 years of federal service. He was named to his current position on June 1, 2001.
Since taking his DOD post, David Chu has served as the deignated “attack dog” for the administration. He has testified before Congress, given speeches and written articles for the media on numerous occasions. If the topic relates to veteran’s issues, retired military personnel or military dependents benefits his approach has repeatedly been negative. In fact, some of his public comments have actually displayed disdain for those who, in the past, served their country with honor. He has been particularly vicious in arguing against expenditures for veteran and retiree health care. At the same time it should be noted he will receive a federal pension and medical benefits when he retires from federal service. Some say these are even more generous benefits than are awarded to military retirees.
Major General Earl G. Peck, USAF (Ret) has some serious observations about Dr. Chu¹s conduct. He says, “The point Dr. Chu misses is that honoring the solemn obligations of our nation to veterans makes a direct contribution to national security even if he chooses to ignore the moral strictures that bind us to promises. Having served more than 36 years on active duty and with six sons who have served or are serving in the armed forces, I can testify that every failure to honor those obligations diminishes the value of a military career to those who are serving and those who might serve in the future. If through misguided parsimony we are no longer able to attract the right people, we can¹t provide for the security of the nation.”
Those unfamiliar with the workings of Washington might feel Chu was just a loose cannon running off at the mouth. This is anything but the case. The Under Secretary of Defense has only two bosses. He answers directly to the Secretary of Defense and by extension to the President. This means that anything he places in testimony, writes in press releases or utters by mouth has been completely staffed and awarded official blessing. At the same time, Chu understands by not attributing his remarks to any other individual he gives the senior leadership a degree of deniability, should the heat build up to an unbearable degree.
Another Air Force retiree agrees with that observation. Brigadier General Robert Clements writes from his California home, “Mr. Chu¹s remarks appearing in the Associated Press and in papers all over the country didn¹t happen by accident. Chu, who has been on the Washington scene as a bureaucrat since the Carter administration, knows through years of experience and spouting off the same rhetoric, that traditionally military retirees, up until recent times, were very weak in demanding and protecting those benefits they were promised and given by law. He also knows from previous experience, they are very slow to band together in protecting those benefits. He is the willing lip-syncher for the Secretary of Defense and the President. Both the President and the Secretary of Defense know this and use him as a valuable tool.”
Why attack veterans and military retirees? The answer can be found in knowing how Washington operates. Congress must appropriate all monies and decide who and what are granted funds. Senators and Representatives believe their primary function is getting reelected, and that process starts the day members take their first oath of office. They win reelection by buying votes with tax dollars. Those dollars are dispensed to constituencies, which pledge to help keep the incumbent in office.
Thus, money flows freely to farmers, teacher groups, unions, minority groups, the poor, senior citizens, etc., etc. It should be noted however, that most money flows in the direction of those who yell the loudest. Until very recent times veterans and military retirees have not had a very loud voice in the battle for tax dollars. In fact, they have been reluctant to speak out in their own interest. Many remain quiet, even today, even though their only desire is to receive those things promised to them by their own government.
This brings us back to Dr. David Chu. He has been assigned the task of framing all who served in uniform as whining, greedy individuals who feel the government owes them ever-increasing bounty. He has even hinted at their disloyalty, by demanding tax dollars be spent on their personal needs, while at the same time denying the needs of those on active duty.
Historically the end game of DOD is to delay, deny, or cast doubt on any and all veteran or retiree claims. According to Charles Clark, Director of Communications for the National Association of Atomic Veterans, Chu was party to the work of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and a group titled Nuclear Test Personnel Review. Though charged with determining which veterans had been exposed to radiation and honoring their claims for treatment, the end result has been quite different.
“My claim has been batted around since 1995“, reports Clark. “I still await the truth. Others and I have watched Chu and Dennis Schaeffer of the Nuclear Test Group for a long time, wondering if our government is attempting to cover up this type of problem. Imagine 450,000 exposed veterans and only 50 claims decided. What a waste of tax payer monies.”
As Congress was debating the issue of a 100 plus year rule that denied disabled military retirees disability compensation without a dollar per dollar offset from their military pension, Chu often overstated the estimated cost of changing the legislation. Again he claimed it would drain DOD resources.
When the Class Act Group, led by Medal of Honor recipient Colonel “Bud” Day was fighting for the earned medical care promised military retirees, all the voices of the Department of Defense, including David Chu, first denied there was any such promise made to service personnel and then claimed the cost drained funding from active duty forces.
Cries of funding drain still continue with Chu lamenting the cost of the military retiree Medicare supplement Tricare for Life.
Says Gary Garavaglia, a World War II and Korean War veteran and military retiree, “We find Dr. Chu¹s comments to be unconscionable. After surviving WWWII and Korea my wife and I have been forced to pay for our healthcare until Tricare for Life was finally passed. Now we need the rest of the promises that were made and not kept.²
What he is referring to is a comment made in a pre-inaugural address, January 19, 2001 by President-elect George W. Bush. He said “In order to make sure that morale is high with those who wear the uniform today, we must keep our commitment to those who wore the uniform in the past. We will make sure promises made to our veterans will be promises kept.”
It should be noted that David Chu has also directed his attacks at support for Veterans Administration care. Retired Navy Chief Finis McComas lives in Grayville, Illinois. “Were Dr. Chu to come to this area he would see long lines at the Evansville VA Clinic. I can hardly stand on my feet. The other day I went to the clinic. It was crammed and every chair was taken. There was no place to sit. I had to leave and get my local doctor to take care of the problem.”
Today we have hundreds of new wounded and disabled veterans returning from war. They are going to these same clinics and VA hospitals. They too are standing in long lines, if able to stand. These warriors, who just months ago were championed by Chu and the Administration, have now joined the ranks of those who are among the veterans that “drain DOD funding.”
Retired Army Sergeant First Class Francis Sementilli of Sebring, Florida, along with Master Sergeant David Estrovitz, USMC (Ret) of St George, Utah; Senior Master Sergeant Jim Berrey, USAF (Ret) of Panama city, Florida; Master Sergeant Floyd M. Baird, USAF (Ret) of Flint, Michigan; and Lieutenant Colonel Charles Revie, USA (Ret) of Las Cruces, New Mexico, are among more than 20,000 veterans and retirees who have written to Congress and the President in recent days. Many express their rage at the utterings of Dr. David Chu. All express their pain about the denial of promised benefits. To date they have received few replies from Washington.
Lieutenant Colonel Revie closes most of his correspondence with a quote from the father of our country, General George Washington: “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their Nation.”